By Din Duggan
Imagine being stacked, like sardines, in the belly of a slave ship, chained by leg irons, after being snatched from your home and made, by brute force, to embark on a terrifying journey across treacherous waters, to distant, unknown lands.
The shock of separation from your family and the only life you know quickly gives way to the sting of disease and death.
All around you, men whose fate you share simply by happenstance succumb to dysentery, scurvy and their captors' brutality, with only the heavens mourning their demise.
Despite your relegation to a status beneath that of beasts, your human intuition tells you that this misfortune, this horrific fate, is merely the beginning of a journey that will extend far beyond the two months of hell it will take to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
Yet despite the collective agony, the stench of disease, and the grimness of death, a force greater than yourself compels you to join your fellow men of misfortune in yowling a song of freedom and faith.
The hopeful sound of caged men whose determination has been stripped from their own control freely escapes the bondage of the ship's hull, rising to the deck, soothing the enslaved women, whose own minds and bodies have been brutalised by their abductors' will.
It drifts into the ceaseless darkness and tells the sea of both the ruthlessness and resilience of men.
It penetrates the quarters of a crew whose desire for profit and plunder knows no boundaries, not even that which would prevent men from capturing and binding fellow men then trading them like livestock, for silver and gold.
But the haunting, melodic baritones, howled in patois, carry a message that transcends language and circumstance. The spirit of those uprooted from a proud past, on their way to a blighted future, penetrates the soul of a hardened slave trader.
He eventually put down his rod, picked up his ink, and sought to put words to the sounds that had descended from the grace of God, through the mouths of slaves and into his depraved heart.
And so, John Newton, a godless merchant of men became a clergyman and slavery abolitionist, who penned the following words inspired by the weeping melody of slaves, which transfixed his soul and set him free:
"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind but now I see."
Little did Newton know that his words of praise to God would reflect the stories of those very slaves and their descendants across the Americas. Theirs - ours - is a story of slave ships and chains, beatings and burdens, gallows and guns. Ours is a saga of trials and tribulations - a still-unfolding legacy of bondage and liberation.
"Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come. 'Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home."
And so the journey continues from the slave ships to the sugar plantations, from suffering to suffrage, from Emancipation to Independence.
The chains that ensnare us now are hardly physical, they're made of materialism and consumerism; ignorance and poverty; corruption and lawlessness.
Though we are physically free, we remain enslaved by crime - hundreds of us die violently each year. We remain economic slaves - collectively owing over a trillion dollars to foreign lenders. And we remain enslaved by underemployment and undereducation - hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans will be unable to read this column because they are illiterate, hundreds of thousands more will not read this or any column because they are indifferent.
And so the road to the next phase of freedom - economic, social, and mental freedom - seems impassable. But it is no more perilous a path than the many we have encountered throughout the years and crossed, by the grace of God.
"'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved; how precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed."
The amazing grace that directed us to sing in the putrid hulls of slave ships and brought us to Jamaica House and the White House, and the grace that drove us to flee plantations then shatter world records, is the same grace that will finally lead us home to that place to which we've been travelling all these years.
"And when we've been there, ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun; we've no less days to sing God's praise, than when we first begun."
Happy Emancipation Day, Jamaica.
Din Duggan is an attorney working as a consultant with a global legal search firm. Email him at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, or view his past columns at facebook.com/dinduggan and twitter.com/YoungDuggan.